Saturday, July 4, 2009

Farm Visit: David and Kristy in a Centerville farm community

I woke up early; left early. David and Kristy’s farm community is about an hour away in near by Centerville, TN. I went with my co-workers, Julianne and Liz.

I first met David, Kristy and their children, Casey and Kindra at the East Nashville Farmers Market. I was at the market with Julianne and we all hit it off right away; Julianne and I were excited about David and Kristy’s produce, and they were excited to engage in conversation with new faces about food and cooking. They offered me a hot pepper that David said wasn’t “too hot”. I took a bite, immediately felt it in the back of my throat, the tip of my tongue and lips, and then the spent the next 3 minutes coughing and wiping my eyes clear of tears. I left happy.

Julianne had forgotten her cash, but was so excited she ran home and went back to the market to get some of their produce. They chatted a little more, and, longer story shorter, got an invite to their farm and community.

We went on Sunday. And honestly, I am still processing the experience…

I’ll try to explain what I felt. But, maybe the best I can do is just describe what I saw. Though, I feel that Sunday is an experience I will never be able to explain fully to someone who wasn’t there. For one, I am sure there is plenty of theological symbolism in their way of doing life that my eyes missed.

I left the community changed. On so many levels that Sunday is so far removed from anything I have ever lived, observed, or tried to experience.

The best I can do to explain how I felt is this: For my whole life I feel I have been guided through life. Like someone has been holding my hand to make sure I can get close enough to experiencing something, but there to make sure I stay at a safe distance. Like the rules my parents have given me, or schools have given me. Like a zoo. Like river-rafting trips with a river guide. Like the yellow and white lines of the road.

But, going to the church service (I am not sure what to call it—they are not Mennonite or Amish, but have very similar ways of life), riding in the horse and buggy all day, sharing a communal meal of homemade almost everything, visiting other community members gardens, seeing “refrigerators” cooled by natural spring water, drinking from a communal cup that is also at every natural spring, and touring three different gardens is the first time I have felt like no one was guiding me through life. Sure, David and his family guided us around their community, but that is the mystery and difficulty of explaining what I felt—I didn’t feel guided; more so free, respected; as an equal.

I know that description of what I felt is off. Anyway, here is what I saw…

David and Sarah waiting at the end of the drive with the horse and buggy as we were pulling in the drive. Their truck (they are one of the only families in the community that have a car; there are a few communal cars) had painted windows. It said, “Jesus saves”, “Fear God”, and “The punishment of sin is death”. David and his family were dressed in simple clothes that they made; like the Amish. Underneath David’s sleeves and on Kristy’s ankles were tattoos. David says they came to the community from “the outside”.

Then we rode the horse and buggy down a road built by the community to church. Outside the church were a number of other horse and buggies. The Church has two levels. The top is a one room service space. The bottom was simply the place they serve their communal meals. In the back of the church is the space for schooling, and beyond that was a kitchen. The service was divided by sexes, guys on one side, women on the other. There was no air conditioner. Two men spoke, leading the service. Then the floor was open for others to offer testimony. Then there were songs that were chosen by members of the congregation. There was no music, just vocal singing, and it was beautiful. We were late, but from what I understand the service started about 9:30 and it didn’t end till close to 12:30.

After the service David walked me outside. Most of the males of the community came by and introduced themselves—first and last name—inquired if I was “akin” to David, and because David had told his community of our coming, they inquired about Nashville, and the garden. Those same men also kissed David as a greeting—I’m guessing there is a biblical reference there.

Then we ate, and as I said it was a communal meal and most everything was homemade. It was served on styrofoam plates and in plastic solo cups.

The rest of the afternoon was spent visiting gardens. Riding in the buggy we past a number of gardens, a water-powered grain mill, and a sorghum mill. There were natural springs on the side of the road being used as “refrigerators”. Signs describing what each gardener offered (honey, tomatoes, fruit, etc) designated the entrance to each garden. People waved from their porches.

The first garden was “the sisters” garden—two sisters are responsible for the care. In the community they are known for their fruit. They had fruit trees everywhere! Figs, different types of apples, peaches, pears, cherries, mulberries. Then blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries. In addition there were all the other typical vegetables found on organic farms and gardens. This was all done on about one and half acres.

Then we took the two-hour, one and half mile trek back to David’s house. Their house was built by the community before their move from Michigan. It is a one-room house; bunk beds for the girls, a bed divided by a curtain for David and Kristy. Between the two bed set ups was a wood burning oven, a shelf filled with canned produce, and a sink with limited counter space. Out the back door is the “summer kitchen” with a conventional oven (I was told this type of conventional gas burning oven is rare in the community, most all are wood powered) and the newly built root cellar.

David’s garden is located in the front yard because it is flat, and so its in view from the front porch. As we sat on his porch chickens and goats walked the yard around us, and there was a certain nervousness in David. He was worried I would judge his garden, simply because I am a gardener. He had sprayed a mixture of water and clay on his tomatoes to protect them from the sun and said numerous times he wished he hadn’t because it makes the tomatoes look bad. He didn’t want his garden to “look bad” for us, his first visitors hes' had since his family moved to the community about eight months ago.

The garden is essentially in four sections; bed style, not rows, a style only twice removed from the famous Elliot Colman. David explained he learned everything he knows about gardening from a man named Craig, who learned everything he knew from Colman. It is a diverse garden, and compost is the key ingredient; he works in a clay and rock soil—already he’s seen improvements. The interesting note about his garden is that his tomatoes where pruned hard. There are only two main shoots, the rest is pruned. His two daughters take care of the animals—goats, chickens, and mule—and make the goat cheese. Everyone participates in harvesting. They harvested a variety of tomatoes for us, along with eggplant and basil.

Next (and it was getting late by this point) we walked to see their neighbor’s greenhouse. Total, the greenhouse is 20X170, a little less square footage than the McCoy garden. In it where hundreds of tomatoes, and then cucumbers, both trellised with twine to the roof. It is heated by a wood-burning stove. Again, the tomatoes where pruned hard and topped at the roof.

Most of their way of life I have to agree with. Seeing the community helps me define “Agrarian”. But, some I must disagree with. Religious fundamentalism is something that has always frightened me. But, only when looking back on this experience do I see the fundamentalism. When in the middle of this day and experience I saw community, I saw a simple and agrarian way of life, and I saw a gardener in David, which I think connected us in some way different than anything else.

Reading this probably feel like information overload. If it does it is probably because that is how I felt during my visit. This post is more about processing for me.

Still processing…

1 comment:

Amanda Burt said...

Hi Justin! Our community had the pleasure of visiting David & Kristy's place a few weeks ago, and we completely understand your thoughts! It was simply amazing. I just found you guys' website today, so will be keeping up. Come hang out soon.